Five Movies that Define Adolescence in 2019

By Julia Stern ’22

No one can deny that adolescence is a complex and difficult time. We sit in an awkward position – missing the ease of childhood but eager to encounter the novelties of adulthood. However, aside from the awkwardness, adolescence is a unique time, full of abundant youth and freedom. The complexity of adolescence makes the “teenage experience” a popular topic in the film industry, and as teenagers, we look to film to find stories that reflect our own. Below are five movies that define the existence of adolescence in 2019. 

5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 

John Hughes was a director known for his adolescence-focused work. One of his most famous movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, remains a favorite among modern generations. The story follows Ferris, a mischievous and witty high schooler, as he embarks on a day-long adventure through Chicago. Ferris, ever impulsive and spontaneous, is an embodiment of teenage recklessness; instead of being concerned about his future, he has a fun-filled day bereft of worry and overthinking. He knows that this time of his life, his youth, charisma, and friendships are temporary; it’s why he takes the day off.

4. The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give, based off a book of the same name, is one of the most important films of our generation. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and increasing police brutality merits a story that presents racism on a teenage stage. The life of the protagonist, Starr Carter, is forever changed when she witnesses the police shooting of her life-long and unarmed friend Khalil. The story presents an often unheard narrative – the struggles of black teenagers in a world full of adversity. The Hate U Give not only provides teenagers with a space to understand the complexity of racism, but it also puts forth a heart-breaking and poignant political statement that ultimately renders the film a defining movie of our generation. 

3. Moonlight

Moonlight is hardly “Hollywood” in the traditional sense. It’s stripped of cliches and over-done dramatized storylines; it’s everything but disingenuous, a breath of fresh air in the film industry. Moonlight is a visual poem, a reflection of a unique journey to manhood that we rarely acknowledge in film. Chiron is a young, black man living in a community that supports him and hinders him simultaneously. He struggles with a repressed queer identity, a missing father figure, and the devastation of addiction in his community. Moonlight’s beauty lies in its silent moments, in the tensions it seamlessly creates. Even the viewers, witnessing all the details of Chiron’s coming-of-age, feel removed from the young man. This is not a product of bad storytelling; rather, it is a unique representation of buried loneliness and trauma that extends our realm of connection . 

2. Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade is the most realistic depiction of middle school I have seen. It’s one of the first movies that nails modern adolescence, as opposed to the adolescence our parents remember. Kayla Day is a friendless and insecure eighth-grader struggling through the last week of middle school. The movie starts with End-of-the-Year Superlatives, and Kayla wins Most Quiet for her class. Kayla’s relationship with social media is spot-on; she scrolls endlessly, the glare of the screen shining on her face, trying to find solace in the fun and social lives of the people on her feed. The movie revolves around Kayla’s vlogs, where she gives advice such as “Being yourself is really hard, and the hard part about being yourself is that it’s not always easy.” She preaches about “putting yourself out there” and “being yourself” – but she struggles to follow her own advice. Day is isolated, menaced by self-doubt and subject to panic attacks. As such, she is the perfect modern teenage heroine: the terrified voice of Generation Z.

1. Ladybird

If Eighth Grade is our generation’s relatable middle school flick, then Ladybird deserves to be the same for high school. Ladybird is one of my favorite movies for a few reasons – Greta Gerwig, Saorise Ronan, and Timothee Chalamet (all promising additions to the film industry) , its depiction of the complicated mother-daughter relationship, and its valuable relatability to teenagers and young adults. Ladybird “Christine” Johnson is a high school senior from Sacramento, a place she describes as “the midwest of California.” She dreams of attending a liberal arts school on the East Coast, but her mother and father, struggling with financial issues, insist that she goes to a local university. Ladybird, in some ways, is the typical coming-of-age high school movie. It features all the classic high school archetypes, the misunderstood teenager, the parents who just don’t get it, the perfect boyfriend, the jerky cool boy, and the mean and rich popular girl. However, this is where Gerwig goes a step above the classic teen flick. She dissects every character; she subtly teases and mocks them, but she allows us to see their faults sympathize with their dreams and mistakes. Ladybird has no happy or sad ending, no crazy plot twists, and no envy-inducing teenage adventures – it’s just life, and perhaps, that’s where it’s true beauty shows.

Thank you for reading this list of movies that define modern adolescence. I hope you are inspired to watch these films – I am sure you won’t regret it! 

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